I’ve been wrestling with how to write about The Lighthouse for five days. For all the dwelling I’ve done, I’m no closer to clarity on that point.
Do I attempt to heap profound meaning on the sea shanties, aggressive gulls and the sexual symbolism? Do I pour exaltations on the cinematography, the lighting, the sound design and those fucking performances? I could. And perchance I should. But left to grapple with the experience as a whole, any technical insights I escaped with have begun to slip out of focus, while stark details burn ever brighter in my mind’s eye.
A haunting mask of a face, a flash of lust, a ripple of revulsion, and rather a lot of fart noises. The impression sounds thin, even shabby. I walked out of the theater and called a fever dream. It was. Which begs the question, do I say that it’s the first movie I’ve wanted to rewatch in months? Do I dare? I do.
The Lighthouse transfixed me entirely. Leaning into the frames was like taking leave of this world and entering a monochromatic funhouse. Beautiful. Textured. Inscrutable. From moment to moment, the sympathy shifts, like so much high sea wind. Is it the put-upon assistant who needs saving or the lost-to-the-real-world light minder? Smart money says they are both in peril on that rock. And the wise viewer would do well to walk into The Lighthouse knowing little more.
For many, The Lighthouse will be a tough sell, and that’s too bad, really. Not because it’s a sneaky crowd-pleaser, it is decidedly not. But because it is challenging and unfixed and quite unlikely to be replicated anytime soon. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson make a sweaty, heaving job of toting tension around the island that becomes our world. It looks like hard work, but it never feels like an act. There’s pedigree here, but no Oscar reel moment of catharsis. Just hard moments from hard lives served up for us to process or not.
It may be that Robert Eggers makes movies like no one else because he makes them for no one else. Like The VVitch before it, The Lighthouse will find its fans, and delight them, but like a tree that falls in the forest, it’s an experience that would exist with the same totality regardless of an audience. That might make it art. It definitely makes it delightfully audacious.
Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
Runtime: 1h 50mins
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Main Image Credit: A24
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